Winterbourne View scandal: Call for new care home neglect law


Rod Minchin
Monday 29 October 2012 13:31

The Winterbourne View scandal has shown the need for a new offence of “corporate wilful neglect” to prosecute care home-owners for allowing abuse to go on behind closed doors, the former care minister has said.

Paul Burstow, who until the recent reshuffle was minister of state for care services, said companies should be brought to book alongside the staff committing the abuse.

Mr Burstow, a senior Liberal Democrat, was speaking out after it emerged that many of the patients moved from Winterbourne View have had new fears raised over their safety.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "What I am clear about, and I believe the Government now need to do, is to institute a programme of closing these long-stay so-called assessment and treatment centres.

"It also needs to make sure that the companies who take the money - if they fail, and in this case they more than failed, they abused people - they need to be corporately accountable, as well as the staff, who stood in the dock last week.

"We have corporate manslaughter on the statute books and I think there is now a case for corporate wilful neglect as well."

Last week six members of staff - four support workers and two nurses - were jailed for between six months and two years for their roles in the abuse at the private hospital in Hambrook, South Gloucestershire.

Five others were given suspended prison sentences by a judge at Bristol Crown Court, who condemned the "culture of ill-treatment" and said it had "corrupted and debased".

The BBC's Panorama exposed the scandal in June last year when it broadcast undercover journalist Joseph Casey's secret footage recorded when he was employed at Winterbourne View as a care worker.

Tonight Panorama is showing a second programme on the private hospital and alleges that NHS safeguarding alerts have been issued for at least 19 of its 51 former patients since they were moved to other care homes.

It emerged last week that Avon and Somerset Police are investigating an allegation of assault against 18-year-old Ben Pullar, who was a resident at Winterbourne View.

A serious case review, which was published in August, condemned Winterbourne View's owner, Castlebeck Ltd, for putting its own profits before basic humanity.

The 24-bed Winterbourne View had an annual turnover of £3.7 million and was regarded as Castlebeck's best performer financially.

The home was exclusively funded through contracts with local authorities and the NHS and charged on average £3,500 a week per patient.

Health regulators, police, social services and the NHS were also heavily criticised for failing to spot the warning signs about the treatment of patients.

Dr Margaret Flynn, who wrote the 150-page serious case review, said her findings could be the "tip of the iceberg" and that care at Winterbourne View had become "institutional abuse".

Her report detailed hundreds of incidents of restraint and dozens of assaults on patients and said that, had it not been for Panorama, the scandal may never have come to light.

Senior managers at Castlebeck ignored internal reports of the excessive use of restraints and injuries to patients, as well as the concerns of its own staff.

Last week, the families of the victims at Winterbourne View called on the Government to ensure the scandal could not be repeated.

They said they hoped that ministers would "seize this unique opportunity with both hands" to make changes.

The Government said its report into the scandal would be published very soon.

"It has shone a light on major flaws in the system which we will address," Care Services Minister Norman Lamb said.

Among the residents at Winterbourne View who was captured on camera being abused was Simon Tovey.

The 38-year-old was slapped and also physically restrained by care workers, Bristol Crown Court was told.

His mother, Ann Earley, told ITV's This Morning: "They (the care workers) were the worst possible people to care for Simon and that is clear without any shadow of a doubt.

"Nonetheless, the company had a culture which enabled that to happen. The (NHS service) commissioners put Simon there without having any awareness of the sort of place it was.

"There had been numerous reports to the local council that had not been acted on.

"There were ample opportunities for this to be flagged up."

Mrs Earley said she was saddened that it took the Panorama investigation to bring the abuse into the open.

"I think they (the staff) were probably frightened and intimidated," she said.

"I cannot believe people were unaware bearing in mind the bruises our children had... the things they were saying themselves.

"I am really hurt that people I liked didn't even bother to pick up the telephone and make an anonymous call."

Mrs Earley said Winterbourne View was not an isolated case.

"I think it is unique in the sheer number of people involved but I do not think in any shape or form it is isolated," she added.

A medical lawyer has called for urgent reform of the UK's care system to protect vulnerable patients from being subjected to further degrading abuse.

Julie Lewis, from Irwin Mitchell, said: "Like the rest of the country, we were shocked and appalled by the Winterbourne View scandal and we hoped it would be a wake-up call to the industry that more needs to be done to protect vulnerable patients from degrading abuse.

"Sadly, it seems this was not the case and the latest news that patients are still not being given the support and care they need is hugely disappointing.

"National guidance on people with learning disabilities calls for them to be cared for in their communities, but the Department of Health has estimated in England 1,500 people with challenging behaviour are currently in hospitals and this is not acceptable for them or their families.

"The Government needs to abolish long-term care homes where severely-ill residents are dumped for long periods of time far away from their loved ones.

"This way of caring for patients does not provide them with the best quality of life, which should surely be the top priority for all care homes.

"Until this radical reform takes place that proves lessons have been learnt, the care system in the UK for those with behavioural problems will continue to be a concern for all those who rely on it.

"There is no excuse for this and the Government needs to implement better systems before the public's faith will be restored."


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